Hello and welcome to the first FIND YOUR VOICE of 2017.

As the new year breaks I want to highlight an issue that I am asked about a lot, and that is zero hours contracts.

A recent report by the resolution foundation found that the vast majority of people who work on zero hours contracts earn at least £1000 less than people doing the same job on a normal employment contract. So why do people accept work under these conditions? Who is working under these contracts? And are they legal?

Zero-hours contracts are widely used in the retail, leisure, delivery/courier, call centre and care industries. These contracts are increasingly be used by companies in the so called Gig economy.

A zero hour’s contract is generally understood to be a contract between an employer and a worker where:

  • The employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours, and

  • The worker is not obliged to accept any work offered.

Zero hours' contracts can be used to provide a flexible workforce to meet a temporary or changeable need for staff. Examples may include a need for workers to cover:

  • unexpected or last-minute events (e.g. a restaurant needs extra staff to cater for a wedding party that just had their original venue cancel on them)

  • temporary staff shortages (e.g. an office loses an essential specialist worker for a few weeks due to bereavement)

  • On-call/bank work (e.g. one of the clients of a care-worker company requires extra care for a short period of time).

It is important for employers to actively monitor their need for zero hour’s contracts. In many cases, it may be more effective or appropriate to make use of agency workers, or recruit staff on fixed-term contracts - or it may turn out that the need is permanent and therefore a permanent member of staff can be recruited.

In the circumstances described above it is understandable for a business to offer zero hours contracts, but there are many businesses that only offer these types of contracts and has their entire staff base on zero hours. Take a look at the so called Gig economy and the way tech companies have tried to change the way people are hired and work. This to me smells of exploitation rather than sound business needs.

Not only do people on zero hours contracts earn on average a £1000 less than other workers doing the same job but also face additional issues:

  • No steady income

  • Employer not obliged to provide work

  • Open to abuse from employers

  • Could be summoned to work at a few hours notice

  • No redundancy pay

  • No pension

  • Difficult to get mortgages or credit cards

You may not be aware, but people who are on a zero hour contract will not have the same employment rights as people on traditional contracts.

People on more traditional contracts are often referred to as employees, whilst people on zero hours contracts are referred to as workers. However, how you are described in your contract is not the only factor which determines what you are legally entitled to.

An Employee– a person employed under a contract of employment with set hours and is unable to reject work requested of them.

A Worker– a worker also has a contract but can accept or reject any work offered. If they do reject work, they should not face any extra penalties (such as not being offered work again).

How the law determines what you are is important as it determines what rights you have legally with regards to your employment and things such as maternity pay, holiday and sick leave.

IMPORTANT: If your work becomes more regular, your rights change. If you are given the same shifts every week, legally you are seen as a traditional employee (not a zero hours contract worker.) This only applies if you have the same shifts for a number of months.

Figures show the number of UK workers on zero-hours contracts rising steadily in recent years, and official data for the last year reveals a leap of 20% to more than 900,000, indicating that insecure employment has become a permanent and growing feature of the jobs market.

A report by the UK’s largest trade union, Unite, estimates that the number of workers in insecure employment of one kind or another has topped 5 million.

The government has commissioned a review of modern working practices by Mathew Taylor, the head of the Royal Society of Arts, who said after his appointment that he wanted to put forward reforms that gave workers more control over their lives.

If you are on one of these contracts and are unhappy, and we can advise you on your status and help you,


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